Chasing My White Whale

Jun 14, 2016 by

Are you chasing a metaphorical white whale, something that continually gnaws at you, encompasses you, and is on the verge of driving you stark mad? If so, you must be a writer of some sort. Maybe an artist. Perhaps both.

A great book all writers MUST read.

A great book all writers MUST read.

Today was I treated to the release of Steven Pressfield’s new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, via an email from Shawn Coyne’s website. It’s almost 200 pages long as a PDF but I read the entire thing in an hour or two. (If you follow the link you will be taken to a PDF version of it to read on your own. I do not know how long they will leave free access to it.)

This is the book that includes the core messages, structures, concepts, themes, additional resources and practices all good writers should employ if we are to become better craftsmen.

I was turned on to the power of Shawn Coyne’s book, The Story Grid, while taking a revision class for novel writing at Southern Methodist University in early March of this year. Coyne’s book, website, and iTunes podcasts–I have all 34 of them downloaded and play them in loops–have had a profound impact on my writing.

But it was Pressfield’s book today that really sums up much of what I’ve been taught while in the Writer’s Path Program at SMU under the direction of Author J. Suzanne Frank, who has worked so hard to build the program into a highly reputable one.

Pressfields’ book is a must read for anyone daring to write a novel, screenplay, or non-fiction. He’s done them all–even a failed attempt to edit a porn flick, which ultimately taught him two of the most important lessons he’s ever learned about writing a scene.


Pressfield lays out several important principles within his book, but I have already typed out these eight points and pinned them to the cork board over my writing space as a checklist as it were for story development. I encourage you to copy them as well.

  1. Every story must have a concept. It must put a unique and original spin, twist or framing device upon the material.
  1. Every story must be about something. It must have a theme.
  1. Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Act One, Act Two, Act Three.
  1. Every story must have a hero.
  1. Every story must have a villain.
  1. Every story must start with an Inciting Incident, embedded within which is the story’s climax.
  1. Every story must escalate through Act Two in terms of energy, stakes, complication and significance/meaning as it progresses.
  1. Every story must build to a climax centered around a clash between the hero and the villain that pays off everything that came before and that pays it off on-theme.

I enjoyed this book–particularly the parts where he was speaking to me as a fellow writer–where he describes what writers must endure in this life while in pursuit of publication or satisfaction or whatever it is that turns inside of us that our spouses, parents, siblings, children and friends do not get about us, and may never understand in full, lest they are tempted to chase the same white whale that causes a writer to keep going when every sane person in their life is telling them to stop.

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Binge Watching HBO’s The Newsroom – A Lesson In Character Development

Nov 11, 2014 by


Several of my friends posted on my Facebook wall Saturday p.m. about how distraught I must have been about Auburn losing to Texas A&M.  I really was not.

Truth is, I didn’t even watch the game, and for that matter, haven’t sat beginning to end for an entire collegiate game all season.

I’ve had other things going on.

Namely, I’ve continued to use every available moment to work on my first novel project, what I’m calling, The Privacy Patriots.

So what was I doing most of Friday evening, nearly all day Saturday and three hours on Sunday?

My homework, prescribed by Author Suzanne Frank from Southern Methodist University.

I was binge watching, the HBO series, The Newsroom. Yes, from about 1:30 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Sunday, I watched all 19 episodes of Season 1 and 2, and then at 8 p.m Sunday night, watched the first episode of Season 3.


I’d never heard of the show before Thursday night’s class at SMU with Suzanne.PS newsroom

As class was beginning, she handed back 36 pages of 12 scenes involving my lead character, Kip Rippin. The exercise was designed to learn about what 12 major events had shaped him before the book begins. We were supposed to develop things that made him weak, strong, wounded, needing to change; the guy he is when we meet him on Oct. 13, 2016 in the newsroom of the fictional media blend of TV, radio and print called The Washington Broadcaster.

On the cover page of my submission was a note from Suzanne: “PS: you need to watch ‘The Newsroom’ especially this final season.”

Suzanne cautioned me about binge watching. “Every show is so intense.”

And is it ever. From the beginning scenes you’re sucked into an emotional roller coaster with multiple character archetypes and storylines.

Twenty hours of viewing later, I’m a much different person than I was Friday morning. I’m a much different budding author and writer, too, as I’ve seen some excellent examples of what I need to be planning and revising in my own characters. Not to make them like Will, Mac, Maggie, Jim, Don, Sloan (BTW, how in the hell does Aaron Rogers from the Packers wind up with a girl like that?) Charlie, and Neal, but to give them places to grow and develop in the pages I have yet to compose and then revise a dozen times before they hopefully appear printed before your eyes.


HBO has a great show on its hands. Regrettably, there are only five more episodes to go before the series is over and the character arcs are completed. The important thing about this new season is that Neal, one of the techies in the show, is now entangled in a mess with an Edward Snowden type of character, much like my Kip Rippin is in The Privacy Patriots. Naturally, my storyline isn’t going to be like the Newsroom and the premises between the show and my work are completely different, aside from involving whistleblowers. The richer experience for me, no matter how the Whistleblower storyline goes, is an example on making characters come to life, play off each other, and live rich lives in the conflict that’s created in their tiny world of a cable newsroom in New York City.

I can’t wait to see how the next five episodes go. But more importantly, I can’t wait to see where my own characters go because of the experience of watching excellent storytelling on TV.





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@SMUCraneGuy V. @SMU Good Social Media V. Almost None At All

May 28, 2012 by

UPDATE, Tuesday, May 29, 2012 7:48 a.m.: The guy who was allegedly posting as @SMUCraneGuy, commercial photographer Ty Williams of Dallas, says he’s stopping now because “there’s no longer any humor” in the situation as the real crane suspect fell to his death in the middle of the night.  One tweet on @TyWilliams says, @smucraneguy says a lot about our culture today. It was fun to run that, it shows the power of social media. Lets use it for good.”  Amen to that. 

UPDATE Tuesday, May 29, 2012:  We are sad to report that the real suspect in the SMU crane ordeal fell to his death last night about 1:45 a.m. when police were trying to approach him up the crane.  The fake Twitter account, however, managed to amass 2, 187 Twitter followers in less than 24 hours.  That’s no small feat, and yes, controversial and sad at the same time.  Our point in this post is to show that crisis communications is essential, whether it’s an event that’s your fault or not.  As one of our colleagues said on Twitter last night, “If it’s on your property, you own it.”  We regret this situation ended with the death of this one person, but are thankful that no one else was hurt.  Now is the time for an assessment of what worked well and didn’t work in the communications around central Dallas Monday during a holiday and while admittedly, the SMU student/teacher campus ratio was low.

Social media is a very active medium.  And when it’s hot, its impact can be far reaching.  It can be funny.  It can be serious.  And it can be opportunistic. 

With news stories in Dallas Monday of a person who has ascended a construction crane on the Southern Methodist University campus in central Dallas, has come a contrasting case study in the uses of Twitter and social media for informing the public.

One involves SMU itself.  The other involves an as yet unknown person, claiming to be a Texas Christian University student/alum, and the creation of a rogue twitter account named @SMUCraneGuy.

It was created sometime early afternoon today and at this writing has amassed almost 800 followers in just that short amount of time.  Yes, this likely is a one-day Twitter event for this account, but here’s the contrast–SMU has not updated their Twitter feed in SEVEN HOURS.

In the meantime, SMU Crane Guy has posted 64 tweets, many of them comical and engaging.  None of them have been critical of SMU, but more light-hearted.

UPDATE–As we write, SMU has broken out the Twitter feed and offered four posts.  This is great.  But after a seven-hour break in the silence, the opportunities of the day have been squandered.

From six years as the communications director of Dallas ISD, I understand the importance of working with the news media in a situation like this.  My friend Jeff Crilley, formerly of KDFW Channel 4 here in Dallas used to call it, “Feeding the beast.”  That is what has to happen in situations like these.  Simply not sending out information doesn’t make the situation go away.

There was a great opportunity for SMU today.  Sure, I’ll bet SMU executives are cussing the SMU Crane Guy imposter for doing what he/she is doing.  But who ever it is, they are not hurting the brand right now.  They’re actually helping it because even in the face of this tragic situation, people for the most part are associating this rogue poster with SMU and with 9-out-of-10 posts, they’re laughing.  And in a situation where  your campus has largely been held captive all day, that’s not at all bad.

SMU, we’d love to work with you on your social media program.  If nothing else, find out who the rogue poster is and hire them…..

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